“Would you like to eat [səʊp]? [səʊp] really? Don’t you mean [suːp]?”
When we saw to what extent our Lao English learners were facing difficulties in English pronunciation, we decided to set up a workshop in this field. As Prof. Martin had already remarked, English pronunciation would not only need practising on sound and word level, but also on sentence level, where stress, linking, and weak forms play an important role in English. In a (much) later step, one would address issues such as elision (contraction of sounds) and epenthesis (addition of sounds) in connected speech.
We decided to start with the most basic unit, the phonemes, and split up the workshop into two parts to avoid an overload and to ensure understanding.
The first workshop took place on the 11th of November, 2016, at the LCTG. We worked for three hours in the afternoon, focusing on the following issues:
- plural “–s”, [-s], [-z] and [-iz],
- “th”-sounds, [ð] and [θ],
- [l] and [r] sound,
- voiced and voiceless final obstruents, [-p]-[-b], [-t]-[-d],[-k]-[-g], and [-f]-[-v].
We started the workshop with a power point presentation, in which we gave a general introduction to English pronunciation. To raise awareness for the importance of correct pronunciation, we performed some funny misunderstandings by mixing up sounds in minimal pairs, like “I like to drink bear [beər]” instead of “I like to drink beer [bɪər]“. We had the laughs on our side and the participants were hanging on our every word.
After the presentation we split the big group up into four smaller work groups. We had planned beforehand exactly who would be together with whom in which group,to make sure that each group would consist of speakers of different levels. This was especially helpful for the beginners, as sometimes a quick translation into Lao just makes life easier and speeds up the process. The four groups worked at four different stations and moved on to the next one after half an hour of theoretical and practical input: Every station was chaired by at least two of our colleague-volunteers who made sure that everyone got individual attention and feedback.
Working on pronunciation is hard work for the speech organs, but also for the brain, which is why we took a little break of 20 minutes between the first and
second half. Thanks to the financial support by BHS we were able to offer some refreshments and snacks to the workshop participants.
Fully refreshed and motivated we started into the last hour of the workshop. Especially the station with the “l” and “r”-sound was hard for our learners. Lao speakers invariably have problems a) pronouncing the [r] sound and b) then distinguishing the sounds [l] and [r]. They often use [l] instead of [r] because modern spoken Lao does not have a [r] sound. Usually when you see a “r” in transcribed Lao it should be pronounced like an [l]. The [r] either goes back to an old Lao or Thai transliteration.
The second workshop followed two weeks later on the 24th of November, 2016, when we worked on two further issues:
- [v] and [w] distinction
- initial obstruent devoicing (IOD: [p]-[b], [t]-[d],[k]-[g], [f]-[v], [dʒ]-[tʃ])
It was a smaller workshop but still not less important. The issues we worked on were IOD and the [v-w] distinction. Both of the topics are essential as, for example, the pronunciation of th letter “v” in Lao is closer to the English [w]-sound than the [v]-sound. (And for us Europeans it is hard to discriminate this Lao sound in the first place, of course.)
All in all we all enjoyed the workshops a great deal, that is to say us, Denise and Lena, our irreplaceable volunteer helpers, as well as our participants.
Our thanks go to our motivated students, our helpful volunteers, BHS for the delicious refreshments, and of course to Prof. Martin from the University of Education Karlsruhe, for her support in theoretical and practical questions. Without their help, the realization of this workshop would not have been possible!
Koptschai-lai-lai (thank you very much)!
Text by L. Wink & D. Burkhardt
Photos by J. Zeck, L. Wink, D. Burkardt